One could think that I have a method; that I allow a few (five or six) New Yorkers accumulate on my nightstand, and then I read them all at once, if not cover to cover, then at least the fiction section of each; that I memorize the names of authors, take notes on what I read, and compare subjects and styles; that I try to learn from it and get an understanding of our current literary scene.
The truth is I have no method.
I tried scheduling my day — so many hours of writing, so many of reading, one or two for exercising and miscellaneous. But my schedules never work out. There are always phone calls that last too long, small things that need to be done around the house, moments when I turn the TV on for a break and forget myself, plus, every time I write, writing takes longer than expected. So I allow the New Yorkers to accumulate because I don’t want to throw them out without giving them any attention. If I had unlimited time and energy, I would read them cover to cover. I think that generally their quality is great. But I don’t have unlimited…anything. And therefore I decided that, as a minimum, I will read the short stories. This is part of an older decision of mine that I don’t read anything that is not fiction. Fiction only, I said to myself, since this is my interest, and any other books would be a diversion, unless they address a subject matter of particular interest for my writing, or unless they are books on writing.
When I finally get to the accumulated New Yorkers, I look at the cartoons first and then I start reading the short stories. If I like the opening paragraphs, I continue. If not, I don’t struggle. And with that, each New Yorker is done. No notes, no comments. Off it goes into the out pile.
Like the decision to read only fiction, I decided that I don’t have to feel compelled to struggle with something I don’t like, in the hope it will get better, or that I will get used to it. If I don’t like something, unless I have an obligation to finish it — like when I read for the workshop or for a friend — I don’t finish it. And here I come back to arithmetic. We all know how little of what is out there we read in a lifetime. Ally Machate, a ‘book doctor’ in our area, said that there are several tens of thousands of new titles being published each year (a million being reviewed by agents and publishers). At the same time, an avid reader might read a book a week. If you’re ‘very’ avid — which I am not — you might read two books a week. That means at best 100 books a year, or 5,000 in a lifetime. How can one afford not to be selective? But which is the criterion? In my case it’s all instinct.
I wish I could get to a method, and maybe this blog, through this type of self analyzing and with the help of comments from others, will lead to one.
We’ll see. In the meantime, my unlimited time is ticking…